Many Women’s teams are affiliated with Men’s teams these days. Out of those in Women’s top two tiers in England, only 3 of the 12 WSL teams play at their men’s stadiums and only one in the Championship. 3 of those clubs are outside of the Premier League (making it easier to make such a move), with the odd one out in the Prem (whose women’s team is in the top 2 leagues) being Leicester City but even that’s with a heavy asterisk.
Women’s football has grown exponentially in the last few years, with perfect documentation of that being a 170% rise of viewing figures from the 2011 World Cup to the 2019 World Cup. As a result of the 2019 tournament, many have grown their interest in women’s football and sport in general. However, despite healthy viewing figures, many clubs still don’t provide their teams with adequate pitches, let alone playing at the state of the art ones such as the ones many uses for their men’s team. So, why is this?
Firstly, especially in the WSL, matches are played at the men’s stadia but is usually only for 1 or 2 matches in the season, and those are mainly reserved for local rivalries or matches against top teams. Despite these situations bringing in more fans, it means that both teams are negatively affected and the football is worse due to not being used to the pitch So, can’t more be done?
Well, this partly comes from the lack of availability, due to the teams playing on similar or the same date. However, if this is the factor, then why don’t teams just take Leicester City approach? In case you are unaware, Leicester City Women’s team only uses the King Power Stadium when it’s not being used by the men’s team. But is this a good thing, and should it be shared equally?
An example of this is Lewes. The Rooks have a tier 7 men’s team and their women’s team is in the Championship. Lewes are a team that is pioneers in many fields of footballing equality and have even been dubbed Equality FC. Both teams share the same pitch, have the same playing budgets, same facilities and give their players the same wages. So, what issues does this create? Not many actually. The teams obviously have to play at different times, but both leagues are actually pretty happy with this and make amends for rescheduling. So, why don’t teams in the leagues above implement the Lewes model?
TV DEALS & SPONSORSHIP AGREEMENTS
The main issue that stands in the way of this is TV deals and also sponsorship agreements. And that’s a fair point. The Premier League in particular plans everything out with the big players (BT Sport and Sky Sports) and get everything perfect. So, what can you change?
Firstly, I suggest that clubs should work up the ladder. Every WSL club that isn’t part of the three is currently on the second step, which is playing 1 to 2 games at the men’s stadiums. From here, it’s extremely easy and quick to move over to the stadium not being used model. Moving onto the Lewes strategy will take time, but every club should let their women’s team play at the men’s stadium when the men aren’t using it. Sure, this may be morally wrong (equality should exist in all walks of life) but it’s better to try and get there over time than fail due to being overambitious.
Yes, of course, it would be extremely hard to plan stuff like this. But isn’t it worth it? To be respected for being equal and also showcasing the biggest women’s teams at your men’s stadium, shows class, and also puts support into practicality. Anyone and everyone can say that they support women’s football, but showing your women’s team at the highest level actually proves that you care. After all, actions speak louder than words.
I also just want to add, the amount that stadiums are empty and also in use by outside figures should be enough time to schedule women’s matches. Things such as the Super League Grand Final taking premise over a Manchester Derby just shouldn’t be happening in this day and age.
For years, people have said that the pitches can’t take the increased use or that it’s unaffordable or even that players do not like playing in empty stadiums. However, these have started to be disproved over recent years. Examples of this are that pitches can easily be prepared in a few hours, clubs are obviously making a lot of money (matches would still at least cover themselves) and more people like to go to matches that are held in men’s stadiums.
With around 800,000 viewers watching the Everton vs Manchester City matchup on BBC Sport, the demand for women’s football is certainly there. With a new Sky Sports deal stealing the league away from BT Sport, the women’s game is growing more competitive on and off the field but the field needs to be improved.